Tougher rules on conflicts of interest in government are needed, the Conservative chair of an influential Commons committee has said, amid a deepening row over lobbying by powerful business interests.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Commons liaison committee, was reacting after revelations about an exchange of texts between Boris Johnson and the billionaire businessman James Dyson
Ministers should not be “locked away in ivory towers” with people unable to contact them, the MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The government is now under intense scrutiny – every meeting, every conversation that ministers have had with their officials,” Jenkin.
“What’s got to come out of this is obviously a system of managing conflicts of interest, which commands more public confidence, and is more rigorous, but also, a balance, there has to be a balance.”
He said the appointment of an adviser on ministerial interests, a post which has been empty since November, when Sir Alex Allan resigned, was “pretty imminent”.
Jenkin’s comments came after it emerged that the Cabinet Office is to launch an internal investigation into the leak of Johnson’s text messages to Dyson – with reports saying that some in No 10 are accusing the prime minister’s former adviser Dominic Cummings of being the source.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said the decision had been made to launch a formal investigation into the leak, which showed that Johnson promised to change tax rules by saying: “I will fix it tomo!” The move came amid growing concern over Johnson’s use of a personal mobile phone in government.
In another interview, the culture minister Caroline Dinenage told Times Radio ministers did not hand out their mobile numbers “willy-nilly” but those in government were required to engage with businesses, charities and unions all the time.
“We engage with charities all the time, we engage with unions all the time,” she said. “The key thing is that we follow the process, we pass anything like that on to the civil service team to take forward. There are very clear rules and that’s what we all do.”
Jenkin, meanwhile, defended his decision to reject calls by Labour to launch an investigation into Johnson’s conduct, insisting that the liaison committee did not have the remit to carry out its own inquiries.